As we move further into the twenty-first century, not for the first time, social work appears to be at the crossroads. It has become abundantly clear that social work now operates within the context of the global economy and is increasingly shaped and critically judged by the criteria of the market, in terms of its performance, efficiency and outcomes. It would seem that the day of the universal welfare state is over. Practitioners in the developed world face a vast array of similar problems whilst their governments have been developing a diverse range of policy responses to manage socially differentiated populations. Paradoxically, such responses may still result in quite similar practice outcomes (Stepney, 2006b). This is despite the fact that there are significant differences among European welfare states — for example, in the proportion of GDP devoted to spending on social protection (see Table 9.1 below), the range of municipal priorities and percentage of the population at risk of poverty both before and after social transfers (see Table 9.2 below).
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